Sunday, February 04, 2007

Up with Hope, Down with Cars!

I just came across a fantastic op-ed from The NY Times called "The City That Never Walks," by Robert Sullivan. (Here's the link.) It concerns the car and New York City, which seem to be locked in a bitter, to-the-death embrace. Sullivan recommends dumping the car.

He writes:
For the past two decades, New York has been an inspiration to other American cities looking to revive themselves. Yes, New York had a lot of crime, but somehow it also still had neighborhoods, and a core that had never been completely abandoned to the car. Lately, though, as far as pedestrian issues go, New York is acting more like the rest of America, and the rest of America is acting more like the once-inspiring New York.
I could not agree more with the rest of his piece. Sullivan has the issue dead to rights, proposing a simple solution to the car problem in the city: closing off streets to cars. Because, as has been proven (see Jane Jacobs' Dark Age Ahead), more roads does not equal better-flowing and lighter traffic; rather, and paradoxically, it means More Cars.

Sullivan's right, too, about other cities behaving more like NYC, and vice versa: being in Denver and Austin, it was easy to see how more and more of the city was being given over to pedestrians, as the downtowns of those cities were rehabilitated and spruced up as people began to return from the suburbs to the city. I think, and Sullivan touches on this in his piece, that the reason NYC has this attitude is in fact because it was never abandoned at all; the people never went away from the city, and so neither did the cars; the cars go where the people are. And because there was never a significant reduction in the population density of Manhattan, there was never a concurrent reduction in traffic, leading to a state of affairs in which, when people began to return to the city, it was easy (or easier) to say, well, why don't we just give over the 16th Street Mall in Denver, or 6th Street in Austin, to pedestrians? There aren't any cars choking those streets anyway.

New York hasn't evolved that way. The city was never depopulated by people decamping to the suburbs, and so was never depopulated by cars, either. The number (and here I'm assuming, but I'm sure it must be true) of cars just kept growing, leading to a situation in which it is more often than not much quicker to walk along, say, 14th Street, than take the bus. The same is true for many major NY thoroughfares: 34th Street, 42nd Street, Broadway; even many smaller streets down in the Village.

What I, personally, would like to see done is this: ban all automobiles (at least from Manhattan) that aren't buses, taxis, or delivery trucks. Does this sound fascist to some of you readers? Maybe it does. But consider the fact that Mayor Bloomberg, a few years ago, banned all smoking in public places in New York. Just banned it. No vote, no nothing. Does that sound fascist to you? I wager, considering most people's current opinion of smoking, that it does not. And it doesn't me, either, because it's for the common good of the people. Banning automobiles from Manhattan would also be for the common good of the people -- it's just that so many people are addicted to automobiles that it's hard to get them to give it up. (Perhaps the tobacco analogy's more apt than I originally thought.)

But so: take a look at Sullivan's article, linked above and also again here right now, and let me know what you think. Do other readers out there in TV Land share my passionate hatred of (at least within the confines of the city) the automobiles, which, if we're not careful, will kill us all?


Anonymous said...

Interestingly the letter bomb explosion this morning was at Capita, which manages London's innovative anti-car scheme. Why would they be targeted. I enjoyed the artlcle, and back up that Daley has made it even easier for Chicagoans to bike all over the place. Thank God. I sold my car and use a ZipCar on the rare occasion I need one.

Idalia said...

Oh god hunter - remember how pissed we were when they banned smoking? I don't even smoke and I was furious! And now I'm so, so happy.

As for cars - this is sort of a beautiful idea, but then you have to remember that all those car drivers will have to find alternatives. I wonder how commuter rail would bear the strain? I know that where I'm from in NJ, train stations are already ridiculously crowded. On the other hand, anything that would encourage more service on the G line is ok by me!

Lycaste said...

Of tangential interest: